Leading Article: Why should we pay for the BBC to dupe us?
Friday 12 February 1999
Even if that had been an argument for it, it would have been exploded by the revelation that some of the people confessing their private miseries were fakes. Perhaps it is that the British do not take as easily as Americans to getting in touch with their feelings on live television. Perhaps there just is not enough misery around to fill the hours of daytime programming that need to be filled. Whatever the reason, the BBC will gain from this unsavoury episode if it realises it should not have been in this business in the first place. It cannot even argue that such programming is cheap - the substantial money it spends does not go into production values, but into Ms Feltz's bank account (and those of sundry agents for the actor- participants).
We do not need to re-run the old argument that the BBC must compete for ratings in order to justify the licence fee; of course the BBC needs a mass audience. But if it competes simply by imitation then it undermines the argument for the licence fee, because it does not produce anything that the private sector could not.
That means that there is a case for EastEnders, which is a strong contemporary drama, but not for things like Vanessa. The BBC has to maintain its distinctiveness and its reputation. When audiences watch Jerry Springer or Blind Date they know it is all nonsense; with Vanessa they may know it is rubbish, but they expect it to be true rubbish.
The Corporation cannot broadcast with irony: it should try to rescue its credibility from the debacle by dropping the show forthwith.
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